A few days ago – when the Grizzlies were down 2-0 to the Clippers, 3 Shades Of Blue (an excellent blog, and one that I’ve written for in the past), published an article entitled “Unstoppable.” In the wake of Chris Paul’s game-winning bank shot in Game 2, they asked the question that has been tormenting Grizzlies fans ever since the Grizz established as a playoff-caliber team: can they win without a truly “unstoppable” player?
The Grizzlies have plenty of great players – Mike Conley and Zach Randolph are both in the Top 10 at their position, while Marc Gasol might actually be the best center in the league – but they lack that one player who can flat-out take over. At least that’s how it feels. Conley came very close to doing just that in Game 2, and if CP3 hadn’t had the ball last, it’s quite possible the story of the week would be the emergence of Mike Conley as a Cooler (in other words, a guy who can make the last shot).
But one great fourth quarter doesn’t earn you that title; hell, even a handful won’t fully get you there. Still, Conley deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done for the Grizzlies late in games in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. With Z-Bo and Marc – widely known as the team’s two best players – not able to do much from beyond mid-range, the Grizzlies needed somebody they could count on long-range shots. Conley has occupied that role since Rudy left, and moreover, he’s done it better than Rudy has. He’s nowhere near as inconsistent as Rudy was on jump shots. Conley’s excellent play these past few months raises an unlikely question: is Mike Conley on his way to becoming a true star?
It probably seems weird to be asking this question after Conley’s Game 3 performance, when he couldn’t a shot from the field to save his life, going 1-9, bur here’s the thing: Conley was still really effective. He made a ton of brilliant passes, and when his shot wasn’t working, he was still able to get to the line. This is the kind of thing superstars can do: have a productive game even when they have a bad game. Case in point: LeBron’s performance against the Grizz on March 1st, when he went 4-14 from the field, but still wound up with 18 points, and 10 assists. True superstars help their team every night, even when they’re off their game.
I’m not putting Mike Conley on the level of CP3, D-Rose, and Westbrook just yet. Those players can score at a high volume, rack up tons of assists, and hit key shots int he fourth quarter night after night. Conley hasn’t proven he can do that yet. Still, he had an extremely good season, and since he’s gotten better every year he’s been in the league, it’s not unreasonable to think he might get even better next year. With Rudy gone, and Z-Bo getting older, he’ll likely become the team’s primary scorer. Based on his recent performances, he should adjust to the role nicely.
In the meantime, there’s still the matter of these playoffs. Conley Game 2 performance established that Conley can hold his own with the absolute best in the league, and his performance Game 3 proved that he can help his team in major way even when his shot isn’t working. It’ll be fascinating to see what #11 does the rest of the series. If he leads the Grizzlies over the Clips, it’ll be one more step towards establishing himself as one of the best point guards in the NBA.